Lyris Quartet - Intimate Letters (Ars Produktion)
"I know that the Janáček was one of the first pieces we played together, which was sort of unusual," says violinist Alyssa Park of the Los Angeles-based Lyris Quartet. "We were asked to play it through a local organization, Long Beach Opera, that was presenting his opera, Cunning Little Vixen. And as a precursor to the concert, some of the intimate letters were read by some of the famous actors in L.A., and then we performed that quartet. And the moment after that concert was the moment we realized we have something special here."
That special connection evolved into the Lyris Quartet. Their mission since the very beginning, in 2008, has been to explore the incredible repertoire of the string quartet, and to commission new works. They just released a new recording which is anchored by the work that brought them together, Leos Janáček 's "String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters." The work was inspired by the composer's muse and love interest, Kamila Stosslova.
"Well, the Janáček has such a strong story," violinist Shalini Vijayan explains. "It's this tale of his unrequited love for Kamila, his sort of obsession for her over so many decades and never consummated, and they never found their way to each other; she never embraced him as a lover, only as a friend. And the depth of emotion that Janáček explores in the quartet is just stunning. And it's the kind of piece that you listen to now … I feel like honestly it could have been written today. I don't feel like it belongs to a particular time and place. It is really a gem in that way, in the repertoire. I think that's what really spoke to us … for Alyssa and I, Alyssa came from a more standard background … I came from this sort of off-beat new music life in New York. And even both of those traditions can be found in this quartet. And from there, it was really not that difficult to imagine any composer with a strong voice of their own finding inspiration in this piece."
Intimate Letters is also the title of this new release, which is complemented by four newly commissioned works each of which reflects the influence of Janáček's second string quartet. Kurt Rhode composed a piece, titled "Inside Voice." His inspiration started by reading some of those letters Janáček wrote to Camilla. And then he talks about how this became a kind of conversation in his head. Do you hear that, when you're playing it, Alyssa?
"I think what Kurt sort of perfectly encapsulates in his piece is sort of that voice in your head that's driving you insane," Alyssa says. "It's sort of like a mad scientist where he's just sort of can't think about only one thing or concentrate on one thing or maybe even finish the thought in a sort of round and full circle way. And I think that's one of things that's so interesting about his piece is that you are just shifting constantly shifting the landscape from one moment to the next."
When Billy Childs sat down to write his piece, he made the decision to move through the five stages of grief through a variety of emotions. Tell me how that plays out in the piece of music, Shalini. "Billy's connection to this piece was really interesting to us," Alyssa says. "One of his favorite pieces of all time is the Intimate Letters String Quartet. The name sort of says it all 'Unrequited.' I think he really captures the sadness and the real heartfelt emotion of the Janáček and of the story and the five stages of grief. He has such a beautiful sense of melody and really these haunting melodies throughout the piece, sort of interspersed with moments of activity and sharper emotion that really bring his piece together really beautifully."
"Intimate Voices" is the title of Peter Knell's piece. Violist Luke Maurer says his instrument plays a significant role for a reason. "The viola was the instrument that Janáček used to describe Kamila," he says, "and so I think it's fitting that in Peter Nell's piece, it basically forms the backbone, the structure from which Nell builds out and creates a just incredible, intricate construction.
"And one thing that I think overall in Peter Nell's piece, you find a lot of thoughtfulness, reflection, peacefulness," Luke continues. "There is intensity in the middle of the piece but he really does sort of capture the spirit of quiet thinking and consideration that really goes great with the other pieces around it."
Alyssa explains that composer Bruce Broughton explores Janáček's infatuation through what he refers to as "Fancies." "And the reason he called his piece 'Fancies' is he takes moments of his life and calls them fancies, whether it's a woman or an emotion or a period in time," Alyssa says. "So the improvisatory aspect of it is, I think, what is that emotion that he's going through in that time, in that place? It opens with such a fanfare and delight and it's always just got a hint of darkness in it, which I think all of our composers have. And he ends it quite comically, as well. He's looking back on his life and smiling at it."